Food safety is a primary concern for every area of the commercial kitchen, including in the storage area. Here are eight ways food service operators can assure that food is stored safely:
- Follow the First In, First Out (FIFO) rule. The FIFO rule protects both food safety and food quality. Whenever new shipments of food arrive, the newer food is placed behind the older food so the older food is used first; this applies for both cold and dry storage. It also helps to label all food with the date it was received and a "use by" date to assure proper food safety and freshness.
- Place meat as low as possible. Even if it is in a sealed container, meat or meat dishes should be stored below other items so meat juices cannot drip down and contaminate those food items.
- Store food in air-tight containers. Once air contacts food, the food starts to spoil. In order to increase shelf life and maintain food safety and quality, food should be stored in air-tight containers. Use food pans (with lids), ingredient bins and food storage boxes to keep your kitchen organized and safe from infestations and bacteria.
- Store all food off the floor. The 2009 FDA Food Code states that all food must be stored at least six inches above the floor.1 This is to prevent water, dust or other contaminants from soaking through bags or otherwise contaminating the food. A lot of local health codes go a step further and make the minimum height 12 inches.
- Temperature control still applies. Refrigerators are essential to food safety, but only when they are at the right temperature. Every refrigeration unit should have a refrigerator thermometer so staff can check and make sure food is below the temperature danger zone.
- Do not overload refrigeration units. If there are too many items stacked in a refrigerator, the unit will have to work too hard to maintain the proper temperature. This could create hot spots in which certain areas of the cabinet are not cold enough. The refrigeration unit may even stop working altogether. Blocking the internal and external air vents will also cause the refrigerator to bog down and can result in unsafe storage conditions.
- Keep shelves and floors clean and organized. Use wall shelving and shelving units to keep your kitchen organized. Anywhere there is dirt or food spills, bacteria can grow, so keeping floors and shelves clean are a must for maintaining proper food safety in the kitchen. Organized shelves with the items clearly labeled also decreases the amount of time employees have to hold the door open and locate items.
- When in doubt, throw it out. The bottom line for all safe food handling and storage practices is that when product safety is in doubt, err on the side of caution and throw the food away. Saying, "It should be fine" usually leads to a case of food poisoning.